Genaetta Shew puts her CPA designation to good use in America

Finance officer, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Washington, D.C.

New Zealand entity MFAT finds one new CPA to be an important addition to its Washington, D.C. office.

New Zealand has 54 embassies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) outposts servicing New Zealand's political and trade interests all over the globe. Genaetta Shew joined MFAT's Washington, D.C. office just a month after she landed her CPA qualifications, and has been there for a little over a year.

"I started at MFAT after working in the private sector with the property group Colliers International. I’ve always had an interest in politics and I’d been curious about working in the public sector. Although we work on the corporate side of the ledger, we do get an understanding of the policy side of things just through forecasting, budgeting and monitoring.

"An overseas posting also attracted me. I’m a representative of New Zealand and the description for this job demanded that I be a good one! Since coming here, I’ve discovered that the Washington posting is considered one of the better ones. It’s certainly one of the bigger missions and we service both South and North America.

"Washington has extreme weather compared to Auckland. All the Kiwis here complain that it’s too hot and humid in summer and too cold in winter. The climate can be dangerous and simply walking to work with black ice everywhere can be an ordeal.

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"It’s a big, fast-paced city and there is always something happening. In some ways it’s a transient city, and a lot of talented, intelligent people come through here. On weekends, I try to get out of the city. My favourite spots are the Charlottesville vineyards in Virginia and Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay, which is America’s sailing capital.

"Some of the highlights since I’ve been here include helping behind the scenes on events and projects that support the relationship with the US. I was involved with the All Blacks [rugby union] tour when they came out here last year. I visited a local school on Pacific Day to introduce the kids to New Zealand history and culture.

"I report to an administration manager in Washington, but the finance managers in Wellington also act as my “virtual bosses”. Each posting is in charge of its own operation, but the high-level reporting and oversight is primarily driven from the finance team in New Zealand.

"The staff who are locally engaged, the ones with an American background, are quite knowledgeable about New Zealand, but most of the MFAT staff are Kiwis. There is homesickness, especially at winter time, but I’m coping. The accents and the miscommunication tests me a bit though.

"It’s been quite interesting to see how people work here. A lot of things come up last minute and communication channels must be open so we can best prepare for any eventuality. Yes, it’s great to stick to the plan, but sometimes things change and you need to be adaptable and find a solution. Budgets are strict, but flexibility is also very important."

Trick of the trade

"It's not just about numbers, it's about the people. Being open with people is critical in any organisation. Keeping the communication lines open with colleagues and stakeholders will give you a better, more rounded awareness of what is going on, and better aligns resources with the organisation's overall mission."

This article is from the April 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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